Managing Shoulder Injuries for Hockey Players

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When we think of athletes that have terrible shoulders the first group that comes to mind is usually pitchers.

The throwing motion puts a lot of stress on the shoulder and elbow due to its unnatural nature.

This is the same reason that good baseball training has preventative measures built into the program. A pitcher without their arm is not of much advantage to their team.

One group that I did not expect to see a need for tons of shoulder prehab and dedicated work is hockey players.

On the surface, the sport is consisted of the skating stride and powerful shooting. The hockey stride explains why their hips are usually a mess and shooting can lead to back pain.

The part that most people forget is that young players especially are out their looking for the big hit. The physical contact can really do a toll on the shoulder.

With one of the teams that we are currently working with, 13 out of 34 medical histories revealed a shoulder separation or dislocation.

1 out of every 3 kids has or had a serious shoulder injury that changes the makeup of the joint forever.  That is staggering.

I will point out that very few of these kids had the injury occur in the last 6 months but that does not mean that it should not be addressed.

The greatest risk factor for injury to a joint is a previous injury. Once a joint is injured, it will never be as stable as it was before.

Kids are allowed to hit in levels beginning around 12 years old. This is still an extremely young kid who is not done growing.

It is not surprising that shoulder injuries are this prevalent when kids are hitting while they have the stability of a Twizzler.

The most common way to injure the AC joint is to fall/collide with the arm away from the body. This can happen when someone gets hit/falls while reaching for a puck or crashing on the ice.

AC injury

This is not a far fetched occurrence and probably happens a hundred times per game.

Hockey is not an overhead sport but the shoulder needs to be treated as though it is. There are a few recommendations I have for pain free training and protection of the joint.

1. Avoid Bilateral Overhead Pressing

Pressing overhead is practically a skill these days. Most people do not have the range of motion needed to get overhead without pain or compensation.

That being said shoulder and military presses are commonplace in a lot of training programs.

Overhead pressing is something that I have no problem cutting out of a program because there is always another exercise that can be subbed in.

Usually, I will include some single arm variations of these presses. Using this modification allows the weight to be lighter which gives the person a better chance of getting overhead without compensation.

Anyone with a history of a shoulder separation or gets pain from pressing should have it removed from their program.

2. Utilize the Neutral Grip

Turning the dumbbells in to utilize the neutral or hammer grip puts the shoulder in a less compromised position.

You will not get as much internal rotation of the humerus which is a very weak position for the joint. The stronger, externally rotated position is much stronger and safer to be used for pressing.

This grip can be utilized for overhead pressing (assuming they can) and for horizontal pressing. I have had a lot of people see a decrease in shoulder symptoms by simply switching to neutral bench pressing variations.

The possibilities are endless here because we can go both arms, single arm, alternating, a combo, incline, etc. You are only limited by your creativity.

The neutral grip is great because it allows people to continue pressing without pain. Having a good variation of neutral grip presses makes overhead pressing less of a necessity.

3. Work on Stability

Scapular stability is going to be essential for holding the humerus in place within the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is meant to stabilize the upper arm as opposed to being a prime mover like the band aficionados like to pretend.

We can achieve scapular stability by performing lots of rowing variations and light shoulder work. There are tons of rows and the back musclse are typically weak compared to the pressing muscles in front of the body.

They seem to get ignored because you cannot see them in the mirror. Performing lots of rows will have a great impact on the stability of the shoulder.

We can also utilize exercises like Y’s, T’s, etc. These exercises train the scapula to retract and settle into a good position.  

Hockey players are not the typical overhead athlete like baseball, tennis, quarterbacks, and swimmers. A lot of them can still experience the same types of injuries though.

When the injury patterns are similar we can then borrow training methods from other areas. Forcing athletes with separated shoulders to perform overhead presses can be a surefire path to re-injury.

We can still train hard by incorporating less pressing, more rows, and using the neutral grip.